Vermont’s Master of Inoffensive Centrism, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, made some news today. After years of speculation that sooner or later he’d run for the top job, he took a small tentative step in that direction. Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition:
I’m certainly considering it, but I’m a far, a long ways from making that decision.
Well, that’s about as undramatic as a first step could be. But he didn’t stop there.
I think it’s something that you have to really internalize and you have to base your decision less on ego and less on the ability to win and make sure that it’s something that you think you should do for the benefit of all Vermont, ah, all Vermonters. So, you know, I have a long way to go before making that decision, but again, I’m considering, and I should, ah, I know I have to make a decision by the end of the year.
Color me unimpressed. Scott filled the airwaves with words for a solid minute without actually saying much of anything.
It was typical of the entire interview, which was surprisingly inept for a politician as practiced, and seemingly comfortable in his own skin, as Phil Scott. I got the sense that this was a big milestone for him: his first as a potential leader staking out positions of his own instead of depending on the easy personal charm that’s made him a good fit for his current post.
He seemed ill at ease in the new role.
He often seemed to tack on both sides of an issue, or fall back on a few stock sentences. He filled time with meaningless phrases. I lost track of the number of times he said “again” as a pause-filler. At times, he was almost Milnean in his meandering, lack of definitiveness, and lack of complete sentences.
For instance, he was asked about Vermont Health Connect. He has explored the possibility of using Connecticut’s well-established exchange website as a foundation for Vermont’s own. He even organized a trip to Rhode Island where he met with Connecticut officials about the idea. At one point in the VPR interview, he said pretty clearly that he wanted to pursue that option whether or not VHC hit its performance benchmarks at the end of May and the end of October.
I think that’s the approach we should take in the future, because even if we get our exchange working, which we may or may not do, I’m afraid of the future in terms of the maintenance costs and so forth. If we have a one of a kind system, we are going to be beholden to somebody else to fix and maintain, that could be, uh, cost us a great deal of money.
But then he temporized, leaving me puzzled as to his actual position.
What we should do at this point, the Governor has made some statements about a benchmark, reaching a certain platform by the end of May, let’s see if we hit that first.
Host Jane Lindholm then noted the second benchmark, at the end of October. “Should we wait until then to make a decision?”
Yeah, I think there were some deadlines involved, but again, I htink we should recognize the fact that it’s not functioning for everyone right now. I think we should assess very quickly, there’s language in the budget bill. When we went to Rhode Island I brought Senators Kitchel and Ashe with me. So we’ll see what happens, but I think they’re fairly open-minded to whatever we can do to make this functional for Vermont.
That’s not what I call leadership.
The rest of the interview was more of the same. When asked about how he would improve the health care system, he quickly retreated to his favorite talking point: the need to grow Vermont’s economy. He said that we have a spending problem in the public schools, but didn’t offer much except that we need to grow the economy and attract more young families with children to fill our classrooms and cut our teacher/pupil rate. Which is true, but it’s so bland as to be almost meaningless.
It’s still early days, and Scott has plenty of time to hone his skills. He will have every opportunity to do so, as the Democrats are either saddled with an unpopular incumbent or searching for a replacement. But despite his many years in public office, Scott has never before had to act as a leader or define himself politically. He still has to show that he can.